Eleni Elefterias on how she combines music and books to teach Greek to the next generation


Eleni Elefterias has spent most of her professional life combining her passion for music and writing to connect with a younger generation of Greeks.

In fact, she’s written three bilingual books, My Grandmother is a musician, When will you play with me?, and I want to learn Greek, which teach the Greek language to youngsters regardless of linguistic background and cultural heritage.

Ahead of the launch of these books on Saturday, November 19 at the Kids Bilingual Book Fair from 1pm, Eleni tells The Greek Herald about her journey to writing these books and why they’re so important.

1. Tell us about your journey to writing.

I suppose best to accentuate my experience as a teacher of Modern Greek both at High School and University level and my experience in Community Languages teaching, where I got the idea to create my own resources for young children learning Greek. The books are for children but also for parents from mixed marriages who can read the books in English or via transliteration (Greeklish) even if they do not know Greek. I also believe that my musical skills and ability to write lyrics enhance my books.

2. What prompted you to write the books My Grandma is a musician, Who will play with me? and I want to learn Greek?

With the My Grandmother is a musician book, I created a song to break the stereotype of the Greek grandmother and to show girls that women can be anything they want to be. It can be used in the teaching of occupations and pastimes for children from the ages of 6 plus. Though it seems like a simple book it actually has some difficult words not often found in children’s Greek bilingual books that tend to regurgitate the same words used in alphabet books again and again. The book comes with a QR Code from where the song is accessible. 

My second book, When will you play with me?, was specifically created for the 2-to-5-year old’s and is a subject they can relate to. A young boy asks all the members of his family to play with him but they are all busy except his puppy. There is a positive surprise ending after all. This book also has a QR code with a slow bilingual reading of the book by myself. It even includes some pages with vocabulary and pictures at the back and I ask the children to repeat the words after me after the reading. 

The two books above were written with a lot of thought and planning as to structure, language, age of child and educational development. 

The third book is actually a song I wrote during my teaching of HSC students. The song is about my own memories of going to Greek school, which I hated at the time for the very reasons I mention in the book.

3. What do you hope these books achieve?

Money is never an incentive for me to create, whether it is a book or a song or to teach Greek. I love the language and am saddened that many people of Greek background do not teach their children Greek, or teach them basic Greek only, yet they keep other parts of the culture very much alive, such as the religion.

For me if the language is lost then we lose all the beautiful literature, the meaning in the songs, our identity. You do not have to be Greek to learn Greek. It is the heritage of the whole of the western world. It is up to us to keep the flame alight and pass it on one way or another. 

4. What is next for you?

At the same time as the I want to learn Greek book is being launched, we will also launch a music video of my arranged by Felicia Harris, my partner in musical ventures. I am a song writer but Felicia is a trained musician and puts choirs together and often sings with me. We collaborate on all things musical. I also want to mention the musician Sotiris Prokopiou who plays baglama in My grandma is a musician. The tune is mine but without him it would not have been possible.

Many friends, creatives, artists and performers have come together to create this music video that was filmed by author, creative and My Grammatakia publisher, John Nikolakopoulos. 

My next book is called Whose Song is this? Shared Culture in the Balkans and Greece, an academic work based on a documentary film of the same name which I have written about. It is a compilation work that is due to be released by the end of the year, hopefully.

5. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I used to run the ZOUZOUNAKIA Greek program for toddlers to learn Greek and paid from my own pocket. We now have a great program at the Bilingual Bookshop (which I helped to start), called MELISSAKIA run by Katerina Vetsikas as an alternative to Greek school on Saturdays.

Luckily, I have wonderful friends who always help out and with the support of The Greek Herald, one of the oldest and still the best Greek newspapers and the one I grew up with as my parents read, I am very thankful.

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